Microsoft adopts Canadian-made, non-English name dictionary

An MS Word plugin created by a Vancouver-based grassroots organization has been adopted by Microsoft and will be incorporated into future updates. Dilshad Burman with why they're calling it a big win for inclusivity.

Last year, Vancouver-based volunteer group Elimin8Hate came up with a solution for people whose names aren’t recognized by Microsoft Word and are inadvertently flagged as typos with a red squiggly line highlighting the “mistake.”

They created a plugin called “Reclaim Your Name,” which is a .dic file — a dictionary that can be added to MS Word, which contains thousands of non-English names. Once the plugin is installed, all the names uploaded into the dictionary are automatically recognized as correct.

Just over six months later, the plugin is no longer needed. Executive Director Audrey Wong explains that’s exactly what they were working towards.

“We’re really excited to announce that Microsoft heard us, and they are incorporating our dictionary into the 365 updates going forward so that non-anglicized names are going to be recognized not as typos,” she says.

Wong says the groundswell of support they received from the community helped get the tech giant’s attention.

“Anytime there are these types of initiatives, it’s tough to get to that level of Microsoft recognizing it,” she says.

“I think that we just had such a great response to this campaign — we had over a hundred million impressions — that it led Microsoft and a team member of Microsoft that worked in their speller to reach out to us to ask about incorporating it.”

RELATED: ‘Your name is not a mistake’: MS Word plugin creators aim to make program more inclusive

While it may seem insignificant to some, Wong says eliminating that red line goes a long way in fostering a sense of belonging for those with non-English names, to whom it may feel like a daily microaggression or reinforcement of their “otherness.”

She says the aim is to normalize their identity in a country like Canada and for Microsoft to recognize that is highly significant.

“To have such a large company reach out to us and say, ‘hey, we heard you and diversity and inclusion is important to us, and that we are going to adopt this and work to being more inclusive as an organization,’ that’s huge. It is really indicative of how much they’re looking to be more inclusive with their tools,” she says.

The program currently recognizes about 8,000 non-English names, and the group is taking submissions for more on their website, as they originally started out.

“We do know there are many, many more names that will need to be updated, and we really look forward to working with Microsoft to determine how to operationalize this, ensure that it continues eliminating red lines on more names,” says Wong.

Microsoft’s adoption of the dictionary will make it global and the default in workplaces, where Wong feels much work needs to be done on a systemic level to dismantle racism.

“When it comes to racism in workplaces, it’s no longer express or violent racism. We’re really talking about subtle pieces that people may not even realize is happening,” she says.

Elimin8Hate has also created workshops to work with organizations to cultivate anti-racist workplaces, addressing practices or behaviours that may not seem obvious, but do immense harm.

“What we’re really hoping to do is have those discussions that are much more salient to a workplace scenario than what someone might encounter in the street. One example is, of course, microaggressions and how powerful that is in the workplace and helping people just become more aware, but also the tactics on how to stop them when they do happen in a way that continues the dialogue in a harmonious workplace,” she explains.

Click here to submit a name to the Reclaim Your Name dictionary.

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